April 27, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
A few nights ago I went out to dinner and drinks with a good friend and mentor to talk about a study series for my young adult group at church that I’ll be leading starting next week. We briefly talked about how his fourth child is due in less than 2 months, and how he wants to design a bumper sticker for his car (he’ll probably need a mini-van soon) that says “Catholics: We’re the only ones out-breeding the Muslims.”
Many would be quick to connect this to the fact that Catholics believe that artificial birth control is morally not so good (to put it lightly), but considering that a) statistics tell us both that most Catholics don’t understand the teaching anyway, and b) NFP methods are just as effective as artificial birth control at avoiding pregnancy, there’s got to be more to it than just that.
(As an aside, can I just mention how happy this new tumblr account makes me?)
So why would it be that I have Catholic friends who have told me, on the mild side, that they want “at least 5,” kids, and in some cases have said things (mostly joking) like “I want to have 9 kids, and adopt 9 more,” or “I just want to keep cranking them out.” And I’ve had a handful of co-workers give me funny looks when I tell them that I want at least 4 or 5 kids myself, which is usually followed by them wishing me luck finding a wife who wants more than 2 or maybe 3 kids who isn’t also totally crazy. A couple weeks ago I went to an event to hear a married couple with 7 kids talk about their faith and marriage, and rather than talk about how sorry they felt for the couple, most of the young professionals in attendance thought it was really cool that they had such a big family and hoped that they’d have one like theirs someday too. The speakers also mentioned that parenting was the most difficult with 2 and 3 kids, but then got easier when they had 4 or more, which means a lot of families are making it hard on themselves when they stop at the ideal 1 boy, 1 girl, and the white picket fence in the suburbs.
One thing that I really like about Catholicism is that it treats children, and all people for that matter, as a gift and not as a commodity. And it was only recently that I began to realize that this was very different from the typical American mindset. (Marc Barnes helped) I’ve talked to a couple med student friends in the past week who have mentioned their irritation with the popular mindset in med school that thinks of patients as “costs to the healthcare system” and not as living, valuable people. And it’s hard to not notice our shrinking birth rate as a country which is driven by a general desire for a smaller family.
I’m realizing as I type this that this mindset of people as commodities and not as gifts is a result of a troubling lack of love for others and an insistence on achieving whatever we selfishly think will make us as individuals happiest. We’re now making so many of our decisions based on what will make ME happiest, wealthiest, and healthiest. And as a result we see things like high abortion rates, high divorce rates, small families, and a looming economic crisis as the number of workers supporting each retired person shrinks lower and lower, and is now less than 3 and will only get smaller as more baby boomers hit retirement age.
But that’s a topic for another post when I feel like ranting about how unsustainable our government is right now.
The ironic thing is that focusing on what YOU want and what makes YOU happiest tends to not actually make you happy in the long term. My friends who are raising big families are actually among the happiest people I know, and my friends who are from large families wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m not trying to suggest that all people who want small families are bad or selfish, but I am saying that there are a good number of people who are trying to limit the size of their family because they think it will make them happier because they’ll have more money, or more time to go on the trip they always wanted to go on, or have a better chance of getting that next promotion at work, rather than out of genuine concern for being able to provide for an extra child. And that can be sinful even for couples using NFP if they are using it with what we like to call the “contraceptive mindset,” and not being open to life for all the wrong reasons.
So, in summary: Babies are awesome. The world needs more of them, or else we’re about to be in serious trouble. And we need to treasure all humans as the awesome people that they are.